Hi, I'm Lara. I'm ELLE's resident motorbike enthusiast. I've been riding for about five years now, and after a health scare this year, my husband-to-be (Bingo - yes, that's his name'o) and I decided to capitalise on our shared interest and go on as many bike adventures as humanly possible.
So, early this Summer, with adventure on the brain, I traded in my trusty Royal Enfield - a steady old gal, but not built for power or particularly long distances - for something tougher and with a little bit more bite.
Yep, ladies and gents, I got myself a Harley-Davidson.
And this is my story of a summer of Harley adventures - including couples trips in the British countryside, bike festivals where it's a great place to socialise with other enthusiasts and a list of tips and gear you'll need to have at your disposal, should you consider going down the same road I did. (You should, it's really fun).
FIRST STOP: ADVENTURE-TOWN
1.Essex to West Wittering Beach, Chichester , West Sussex
When you've got a bike this comfortable and sturdy, motorways are for mugs. With no real need to get from A to B too quickly, it's great to be able to take the scenic route.
Instead of tearing up the M25, we took the A3 instead, and purred along for three hours, taking in the sun-soaked British countryside.
We hit the beach, we found a great pub - The Lamb Inn, Chichester Road, West
Wittering, Chichester - and relaxed.
Wild camping isn't for the faint of heart, but if you want to be completely alone and at one with nature, it's a good way to do it. In this instance, we'd left it too late to find a good spot, so we plumped for the nearest campsite - Nunnington Farm Campsite . For two people, one tent and two bikes, it's a snip at £26,
and you don't need to book in advance.
2. Essex to Glamorgan, South Wales for Babes Ride Out and The Hook Up
Babes Ride Out is an all women's motorcycle camping weekend, which takes place annually in California (usually in October). 2016 is the first year it has been held in the UK. Anyone female is welcome, you just need to buy tickets (£50) beforehand.
The Hook Up is an annual chopper show (a chopper is a type of customised motorbike created in the US in the1960s, often with modified steering angles and lengthened forks for a elongated look), which has only been running for about three years. It's open to all-comers, you just need to buy tickets (£30) beforehand, or on the door.
The Hook Up is held in Usk, south Wales, about one hour's ride from the Babes Ride Out location.
I thought I'd do my best to divide my time between the two events, especially seeing they were only a 45 minute ride apart, and this part of Wales has amazing scenery- mountains, and lots of little villages with flowers everywhere, so it is lovely to ride through.
All packed up and ready to ride to South Wales. This would normally be a four or five hour ride but we took the long route along the A303 (about six – eight hours with stops).
About 10 of us (some friends, some soon-to-be-friends) rode up to Wales together. Biker etiquette dictates that we all have to stick together and not ride ahead or hang back. If someone goes missing we stop, call them and arrange a meeting point so we can continue to ride together.
We made a few pit stops, about every 30 - 45 minutes. Any time you see a petrol station you need to fill up, because you never know how long it will be until the next one.
It's more tiring riding on the motorway, simply because you're going fast, you have to concentrate 100 per cent more - for obvious reasons - and because the road gets very boring, very quickly. It's more enjoyable to take the back roads, as the scenery is more varied and you get to see more hidden treasures, which is what these adventures are all about.
After at least eight hours on my bike we finally arrived at Babes Ride Out, separated from the boys, who have gone to The Hook Up.
After a great night of dancing with the ladies in the barn bar, I unzipped my tent and woke up one hell of a view. Wales, I gotta say, you're pretty fine.
Later that day I headed over to The Hook Up to meet Bingo and the boys for dinner. My veggie burger was on a separate BBQ, obviously.
Everyone getting their bits together in the morning before we hit the road for the five hour trip back to London .
We have to stop a few times on the hard shoulder while our friend Andy sorts his bike out. It was such a hot day, it was nice to take some gear off and cool down after several hours of riding.
Until next time Wales.
3. A weekend on the Essex coast
in Thorrington, near Brightlingsea, inland from Clacton-on-Sea.
We didn't want to camp this time, as we thought it would be fun to carry only bare essentials: clothes, food and wine – no tent or big ground mat - and sleep in an actual bed. So we book a night in The Shepherds Hide. It's so remote, it doesn't have an address, just a post code - CO7 8JJ - that's how we like it.
The Shepherd's Hide Is a pretty little hut in a farmer's field and costs about £300 for a three-night minimum booking. It's a bit pricey, but sometimes you need to spoil yourself, right?
And this is no ordinary hut: the 20ft x 8ft space is filled with a king size bed, kitchen and bathroom, and even mains power and water. Plus they make delicious homemade strawberry jam.
We love cruising around Essex: it's all country roads;
open fields, no traffic and some lovely country pubs to pop into. This place
was in Colchester, only about a two hour ride from home (including stops), so
we take our time and just enjoy the beautiful weather
A glass of wine and a fire to end our day. There isn't much in the world that could make me happier.
4.The Tripout - a yearly customised motorcycle show
This takes place over a weekend in Bedford. Anyone can buy tickets ( around £50 for the weekend), and join in in the festivities.
This is only a two hour ride away (with stops), so, again, we met up with friends and took the long way around to make the most of the ride.
We hook up with our friends Andy and Sven in Leyton for the ride up. The weather is looking slightly dubious, so the rain gear is definitely on. But, after quite a bit of wind and rain, the sun decides to come out, so we're laughing once again. As you can imagine, riding in the rain - quite apart from being a lot more dangerous - isn't all that much fun.
We finally get to catch up with everyone and check out all of the cool bikes. Cue a lot of 'Bike Envy.'
Tripout is a great evening catching up with people who've come from all over the country, some even from as far away as Spain, Brussels, Denmark - and Canada.
Biking isn't for everyone, of course, but it tends to have a reputation for being a closed-off world. The concept of the 'biker gang' has been around for a long time, making people reluctant or hesitant to investigate biking as a hobby.
The reputation is unfounded - the biking world is all-inclusive, as it should be, and mostly you'll meet loads of really friendly people who are more than happy to have you ride along with them.
So, if you think it might be for you, here is a list of essentials for biking adventures like mine.
1. Portable phone chargers
These are an absolute necessity, especially if you're listening to your directions in headphones. You will always need extra phone power for directions, to find the closest petrol station or nearest supermarket.
2. Bungee cables
Or even better - a ratchet with tie-down straps. You can get both of these from most hardware stores. You can never have too many bungee cables; you need them to attach your bag to the back of your bike or sissy bar (passenger back rest). As I always seem to have more luggage than anyone else, I find that the ratchet straps are the best as you usually only need to use two of them, as opposed to five - ten bungee cables. Ratchet straps are usually used to secure your bike when transporting it in a van.
3. The smallest camping gear you can get
This can be more expensive, but it's definitely worth the extra cost for your future camping comfort. Find a good tent that packs down as compact as possible, ditto your sleeping bag. You need a tent that is thin but keeps the heat in, even when temperatures drop below zero. Heimplanet is good place to start . A ground mat is very important; the single blow up mats with a small pump roll up quite small, or you can get ground mats that fill up with air when unrolled.
You can get good fold-up trousers and jackets that are water resistant; again the more you pay, the more resistant they are, so you'll be glad you paid extra when you get caught in a downpour. Try Blacks, who have a huge range of camping equipment.
5. Water & Sunblock
I always shove a bottle of water between my bag and my straps so I can get to it easily. You never know how hot it really is until you've been riding in it for a few hours. I always have a small tube of sunblock ( factor 30 minimum) in my jacket pocket. I learnt the hard way.
Oh yeah, and a BIKE!
If you fancy a biker road trip, you can buy or rent Harleys from the Warrs Harley dealership in London. Call them for advice, they're very helpful. If you're a bike novice, and want to learn, first do your CBT (Compulsory Basic Training, about £100, which you can find out about here.
It's a bit daunting at first, but you'll get used to it. Getting your CBT entitles you to ride a bike up to 125cc. After getting the hang of that for about six months, there are two main tests which will get you a full licence for larger bikes too.
You have to do the tests on a 650cc bike, which are much more comfortable to ride. Places outside London tend to be cheaper for your CBT and bike training. I did mine through Camrider and would definitely recommend them.